Why Does Diane Sawyer Succeed Where Katie Couric Struggles?

by | June 28, 2010 at 5:39 PM | News, TV News

Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric (Photos: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Jemal Countess/Getty Images)

Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric (Photos: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Jemal Countess/Getty Images)

For Katie Couric to be more like Diane Sawyer, she’d have to basically become Diane – and that’s not going to happen.

Other than the fact that they’re both women, they’re two very different people, each of whom has great strengths. They’re both very seasoned, poised broadcasters – A-listers with decades of experience who have interviewed just about everybody of importance in the entire world. Each anchorwoman is as well-connected and well-paid as people get in their business (though Katie makes more money, reportedly).

In fact, you might even say Katie has an edge on Diane by virtue of Katie’s many years as the well-liked co-host of NBC’s ‘Today’ show, then (as now) TV’s most popular morning show. Diane was the co-host of ‘Good Morning America,’ the No. 2 show.

And yet, if the ratings for their respective newscasts are any indication, Diane would appear to possess more strengths than Katie, at least where the affections and trust of viewers are concerned.

Sawyer Outshines Couric, Gaining on Williams

Couric’s ‘CBS Evening News‘ is continually mired in third place in the network news rankings, with a nightly average of 5.8 million viewers, while Sawyer’s ‘World News’ on ABC is a healthy second, with 7.6 million. (‘The NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams‘ is in first place, averaging 8.8 million viewers.) Moreover, a report today in the New York Post has Couric negotiating a new contract with CBS that might have her moving into other roles at CBS News that don’t include anchoring the network’s flagship newscast.

The report even said Couric had been mulling a move to CNN, though the idea was nixed. (For its part, CBS says it doesn’t comment on “rumors.” Separately, a story on LATimes.com said negotiations on renewing Couric’s contract, which doesn’t expire until summer 2011, won’t start until this fall.)

Report: Katie Couric Turned Down CNN to Replace King

Under these circumstances – plus the fact that we are only a few years into the only era in network news history in which two out of the three network newscasts are fronted by women – it is inevitable that comparisons between Diane and Katie would be made.

And superficial as it might seem, it’s the surface qualities that matter most. This is, after all, television, where perceptions – particularly those pertaining to personal attributes – matter more than reality.

And the perception is: Diane Sawyer is the steadier of the two. It’s not fair to say it, but that’s what it is. Sawyer’s been at the same network – ABC – since 1989. And she’s taken on anything and everything they’ve asked her to do, including stepping into a co-host’s role on ‘GMA’ in 1999 for a “temporary” amount of time that morphed into 10 years. And she never complained once, at least publicly. To TV audiences, she always is, and always will be, upbeat Diane, consistently giving the impression that it’s always sunny in Diane Sawyerland.

Not so with Couric. When it came time to leave NBC and the ‘Today’ show, her negotiations on what would become the fattest, richest contract in network news history, was front-page news. Ever since, she’s been dogged by rumors of diva-like behavior, that her huge salary (estimated at $15 million a year) sucked up an unseemly chunk of the CBS News budget. It’s not fair, because she has broadcasting talent that is second to none, but Couric is tabloid fodder.  Sawyer is not.

In addition, Couric inherited her newscast from Dan Rather (despite Bob Schieffer’s short reign in between the two of them), who was a lightning rod for controversy even before the Texas National Guard report that did him in. In that respect, ‘The CBS Evening News’ had an image problem long before Couric came along.

ABC News, by comparison, is an oasis of stability. Sawyer inherited her newscast from Peter Jennings, a beloved anchorman who died, and then Bob Woodruff, another very likable anchor who was nearly killed while courageously covering the Iraq War.

To the public, Sawyer seems as if she earned the news division’s top job by remaining loyal to her company and waiting patiently for the assignment – whether that scenario is true or not. On the other hand, Couric got the top job at CBS, apparently, through hard-nosed negotiating that resulted in affable, gray-haired Schieffer, who viewers had come to like, being pushed out, whether he wanted the job or not.

The fact is: Katie Couric is not Diane Sawyer. And at this point, there’s nothing she can do about that.

What do you think, broadcast newshounds? From where you sit every evening, what separates Sawyer from Couric?